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US Urges Restraint Amid Violence in Gaza

The United States is making public and diplomatic appeals to Israel and the Palestinians to end the violence that has sent regional tensions soaring only weeks after Israel's Gaza withdrawal. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been involved in the contacts.

The violence and political bitterness is hardly what U.S. officials had expected to follow the Gaza disengagement. And U.S. diplomats in both Washington and the region are involved in contacts aimed at restoring calm and dialogue between the sides.

State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said Secretary Rice made telephone appeals to Israeli and Palestinian officials over the past weekend, and that they had been followed-up by other U.S. diplomatic contacts with the parties and other countries in the region.

Mr. McCormack said while the United States welcomes recent statements by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas urging calm, it is also urging the Palestinian Authority to bring those responsible for rocket attacks into Israel from Gaza to justice, and dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism.

He said the United States has always maintained that Israel has a right to defend itself, but has also urged the Israeli government to be mindful of the consequences its actions might have on long-term peace prospects.

"We've been in touch with both sides concerning the recent actions surrounding Gaza," said Mr. McCormack. "We've underlined to both sides their responsibilities. And we have emphasized to the Israeli government that in taking whatever actions they take to defend themselves, that they consider the effect of those actions upon moving towards the goals that we know all parties share."

A senior U.S. official who spoke to reporters said the Palestinians need to resolve what he termed the "fundamental conflict" posed by armed groups that want to play a part in the electoral process, yet also want to retain "an option for violence."

He said the explosion of a rocket-laden truck during a parade by the radical Islamic group Hamas in Gaza last Saturday, which killed at least 15 people, is what he termed "Exhibit A" in the case against having armed groups operating outside the law.

Hamas blamed Israel for the explosion and used it as a pretext for firing rockets into Israel, even though Israeli officials denied responsibility and the Palestinian Authority said there was firm evidence the blast was accidental.

Officials here confirmed, meanwhile, that Palestinian Authority chief Abbas will meet at the White House with President Bush October 20.

Mr. Abbas told reporters Wednesday he will urge the president to press Israel to end military actions he said could collapse peace hopes.

The two last met in Washington in May. Mr. Bush held talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon early this month, only days after the Gaza settlement evacuation was completed.

The senior U.S. official downplayed the significance of Wednesday's announcement that a Sharon-Abbas summit planned for Sunday was being postponed.

He said when the parties hold a meeting at that level, there must be some confidence it will succeed and produce results. He said under the present circumstances the need for more time is understandable.